Hampton & McCreary
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Signs your "stomach flu" might be E. coli

You know the difference between the regular flu (influenza) and the stomach flu (gastroenteritis). Influenza affects your lungs, nose and throat while the stomach flu hits your intestines. But how do you know for sure that your stomach flu isn't E. coli?

What is E. coli?

You have probably heard about E. coli outbreaks in the news, but may not know exactly what it is. E. coli is an infection of the intestines caused by Escherichia coli bacteria. These bacteria are normally present in your intestines in small amounts of mild strains. It causes symptoms that are similar to those of the stomach flu: abdominal pain and cramping, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. You may experience a brief bout of E. coli-related cramping or diarrhea that passes quickly. However, there are some particularly severe strains of E. coli that can cause severe illness, hospitalization – and even death.

E. coli or stomach flu?

Although the symptoms at onset of E. coli and stomach flu are similar, there are some signs your stomach flu could be a dangerous E. coli infection. If you have a mild fever, some general aches, and know you've been exposed to the stomach flu, you're probably going to be fine within a couple of days. With E. coli, you may not experience symptoms until after a week of exposure to the bacteria, although it can come on within a day. With E. coli, you will have severe abdominal cramping typically accompanied by bloody diarrhea that does not subside in a day or two. You should see your physician as soon as possible if you have severe symptoms of E. coli as it can become life-threatening.

Can E. coli be prevented?

You can take some precautionary measures to help prevent E. coli, such as always washing your hands thoroughly, and especially when handling food, changing diapers, or being around farm animals. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also recommends avoiding undercooked beef, milk and juice that have not been pasteurized, cheese made with unpasteurized milk and alfalfa sprouts.

Even the most careful among us can be unknowingly exposed to E. coli, however. A recent outbreak that affected 32 people in 12 states was traced to a soy nut butter that has since been removed from grocery shelves. Unfortunately, it often takes a widespread outbreak to discover that your nut butter, vegetables, fruit, or some other grocery item is carrying E. coli bacteria. That's why you need to know the signs that your stomach flu might be E. coli, take care, and be aware.

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